Get Back To Your Lamp!

AccessoryGenie (they pissed me off so they don't get a link, not that you couldn't figure it out) sent me an e-mail today with the subject "Thank you for your order". Since I haven't ordered from them in months, I was immediately alarmed - with identity theft rampant these days, who knows, right?   Perhaps someone broke into my account and ordered five grand worth of... accessories.  Anyway, obviously I opened the e-mail. And read this:

Thank you for your past order to www.AccessoryGenie.com
As our way of saying Thank You we have a ** GREAT July 4th Holiday SPECIAL***

Oh, am I pissed (or should I say, "they rubbed me the wrong way" or, "they better have a heavy stockpile of wishes right about now"). This is going to The Consumerist (who I just posted about), and I'm debating whether to tell them how scummy they are for pulling this.  And please don't try and say they didn't know what they were doing.  In the VERY unlikely chance that this was true, it means a major e-tailer is ignorant to the dangers of phishing and other forms of identity fraud.  Either way, this wisher is going to another genie.  Yeah.


Good Stuff From The Consumerist

The Consumerist has been on fire lately, with a slew of great stories and posts:

It has a whole section on AOL, with plenty of stories on AOL's crappy Customer Support and their policy of actively preventing users from cancelling. One man, Vincent Ferrari, even taped his call, and made it onto CNN with the Dada-esque results. Another resorted to begging.

Then there's the case of a Comcast technician falling asleep on a customer's couch, apparently because Comcast kept the guy on hold for an hour. Comcast fired the technician, but the person who reported it tried to get him rehired, since the fault really lies with Comcast's tech support infrastructure, rather than the individual technician. But as Consumerist rightly points out, there is no excuse for a technician to fall asleep on a customer's couch - that is as unprofessional as it gets.

Then they have a funny take on the feud between the administration and The New York Times on the latter's reporting on the government's secret trolling of bank records: some supporters of the administration say it's "treason" to report on something like that. Says the Consumerist: "If free speech is treason, then the terrorists truly have won. If they win, the war is over. If there is no more war, then there is no crime of revealing state secrets in wartime. Therefore, there is no treason." At least they admit it's specious reasoning :-)

They have a cool story about a band encouraging their fans to download their music and burn their own CD's.

And a story about how Intel plays the song "Intel Cares" on the PA for its factory workers in China.

But what I like most of all is their straightforward approach to how they see companies - not as antagonists, but simply customers who want to be treated fairly and like human beings. That's why they're reluctant to say hello to a salesperson in a store. And why they sometimes feel that dealing with Customer Service is a war, and that, in that sense, companies are not even following Geneva Conventions. And that "Sometimes All We Want Is An Apology" (great post on how companies could avoid a lot of lawsuits if they were willing to admit they were wrong every once in a while).

Last but not least, they are more than happy to post stories about good customer service, like Moen, USAA, Timbuk2, and even the rarest of the rare - good service from UPS. And they do point out when the customer who contacted them is actually wrong.

So keep up the good work, Consumerist! Fight the good fight!



Please Stop Apologizing

As Regret the Error points out, sometimes apologies are better left unsaid... (text NSFW)



Thank You, WebMD

Today, in the "No S--t" Department, WebMD writes: "Rheumatoid Arthritis May Hamper Sex".

Ummmm... duh?

Less obvious: "Migraine Sufferers: Are They Sexier?"


A NAFTA By Any Other Name...

Via my co-worker T, who really needs a blog ;-) - NAFTA has apparently been reborn under a new name - The SPP (Security and Prosperity Partnership Of North America). And like the rose, it smells the same no matter what you call it. I'm actually not anti-globalization in general, but "rebranding" something to make it more palatable is just obnoxious.


All About 'W'

No, not the president. The 'w' command on Linux:
"Show who is logged on and what they are doing." (from the Linux User’s Manual)

Hmmmm - on second thought...



Testing Flock

I am posting this from Flock, which I read about on Slashdot.  It's reaaaaally cool!


Blogged with Flock

Helter S'Coulter

Hey Coulter fans! Are you running low on hate and bile that you need to get you through the day? If so, check out The Coulter/Hitler Quiz! Who said it? Anne Coulter? Or Adolph Hitler (yemach shemo*)? Don't ask me - I got a score of zero!

* See halfway down linked article for an explanation of that phrase.


p.s. The Headline/Title/Subject is a reference to Helter Skelter, a book about the Manson murders. The title comes from the fact that Charles Manson saw the Beatles' song of the same name as a prophecy of a race war to come in the future (it was in fact about an amusement park ride).


Gaming on Speed

Via Creation Robot, the Speed Demos Archive, where you can download video captures of gamers playing games at top speeds. It's a great resource if you're stuck on a game (one of the ones they have online, at least), and want to see how to get past a part as quickly as possible. I picked out some interesting ones...

Quick Shots:
Marble Madness for NES (0:03:13)
Jurassic Park for Genesis (0:03:33)
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade for NES (0:03:35)
Jaws for NES (0:04:48)
Super Mario Bros. for NES (0:05:06)

Surprisingly short:
Mega Man: The Power Battle for GCN/PS2/Xbox (0:05:08)
Morrowind, The Elder Scrolls III for PC (0:07:30)
Metroid for NES (0:18:35)

Long Hauls:
Zelda: The Wind Waker, The Legend of for GameCube (6:42:xx)
Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door for GameCube (7:11:xx)
Chrono Cross for PlayStation (7:55:08)

Surprisingly long:
Mega Man X: Command Mission for PS2/GCN (5:46:xx)
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas for PlayStation 2 (7:46:xx)


Funky Gadgets

Wired's Gear Factor has had some cool gadget reviews recently:
1) A car specially designed for handicapped drivers here.
2) A lawn chair made of... lawn here.
3) A wall safe that's much more fit for the age of technology than a stuffy old painting here.


Earth Has a Heart of Gold

Isn't that just so poetic? And new research indicates that it's true: '[Macquarie University geologist Professor Bernard Wood] says there is enough gold buried deep within the Earth's core to cover the entire land surface of the planet to a depth of half a metre... "We can say that more than 99 per cent of the Earth's gold is in the core," he said.'



UPS vs. FedEx - Incompetency Showdown

So I'm expecting two packages these days - one via UPS and one via FedEx. The UPS one came to my building yesterday, but to the wrong apartment. Why? Because I'm on the 3rd floor, and the sender decided to put the floor as well as the apartment on the address label, confusing the nice delivery-person. Meanwhile, FedEx keeps trying to send the package to Brooklyn (and getting a "Delivery Exception", according to the tracking website). I don't live in Brooklyn. The address doesn't say Brooklyn. The ZIP CODE doesn't say Brooklyn. Yet for some reason, they are trying very hard to give someone in Brooklyn my somewhat expensive purchase. So FedEx wins the incompetency showdown for now, but that's just because I gave up on the UPS package and told them I'd pick it up myself...



Third Time's The Charm (Or, RSS Fun)

I got three consecutive stories in my RSS reader from TheForce.Net with the headline "ILM Have Lost Their Magic":

  • Model shop spun off to form seperate company...

  • Model shop spun off to form separate company...

  • Model shop spun off to form new company...

  • There we go. Although you could have just said "Model shop spun off" - the rest was redundant anyway.



    Congratulations - Everyone's Above Average!

    Damn Interesting has an article about the "Above Average Effect": "When asked, most individuals will describe themselves as better-than-average in areas such as leadership, social skills, written expression, or just about any flavor of savvy where the individual has an interest." Since, by definition, the majority of people are average, there's obviously something going on here. He continues: "It seems that the reason for this phenomenon is obvious: The more incompetent someone is in a particular area, the less qualified that person is to assess anyone's skill in that space, including their own. When one fails to recognize that he or she has performed poorly, the individual is left assuming that they have performed well. As a result, the incompetent will tend to grossly overestimate their skills and abilities."

    Makes sense to me. But this logic focuses on below-average people. What about average people? So here's my take: If the average person is incompetent at something, then the above logic holds. I.e. anyone who perceives themselves to be competent at something (even if they're not) will then consider themselves to be above-average (since mere competence places you in that desirable category). The error therefore comes in assessing one's own competence. If the average person is competent at something, however, then the error is more likely to be that the individual simply believes that not to be the case. That is, they assume (incorrectly) that most people are incompetent, and that they are competent (whether that's true or not), and therefore they are above average.

    There's also a stigma associated with "average" - "above-average" sounds so much better, even if average is really good! In a highly competitive environment, this is very likely to be the case - the "average" applicant to Harvard is most likely anything but! As a relevant aside, the Talmud says that it's better to be the follower of a pack of lions than the head of a pack of foxes - i.e. better to be below-average in a talented group than above-average in a mediocre group.

    To sum up, if you want to know how competitive you are, you have make sure you know what your competition is, and be able to entertain the notion that you may not be the best. Sounds good to me. But then again, since I'm better than everyone else, I already knew that ;-)


    This Post 85% True

    I just bought a bottle of conditioner yesterday, and the label says "70% Organic Ingredients". I was going to compare it to something disgusting, like "This soft drink is 95% not urine", but I decided to go with "This root canal will be 80% painless!" so as not to gross you out.


    "Mommy, Why Does Ann Coulter Hate You?"

    "Because I'm a Democrat, dear."



    Watch? Yes. Understand? No...

    I'm not sure how to even describe this - it's some sort of Japanese animated music video. I used StumbleUpon to find it (like I do many sites). I will say that I watched it on a computer with no sound card, so I'm sort of assuming that it's a music video. But that ups the surrealism level a bit. I will also say that after watching the whole thing without sound, I felt a weird desire to join a cult - any cult - this thing would make a great recruiting video... for something...


    Stop Copying Me!

    A new website called Copyscape "finds sites that have copied your content without permission, as well as those that have quoted you." It could become an invaluable tool as Information Property issues get thornier and thornier...


    Freud 2006

    Via Mind Hacks: Sigmund Freud's ideas have not aged all that well. And Prospect Magazine has an excellent article about why that is, and how cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) has replaced it.

    From the article:
    No one has fully explained the great riddle of how flesh became thought, but it is now perfectly possible to piece together a working model of the mind from neuroscience and cognitive psychology that contains no oedipal conflict, no thanatos or eros, no pleasure principle, no ego and—decisively—no unconscious. We may be emotionally attached to some of these ideas but, scientifically speaking, we don't need them.

    Does this mean that the big dream of the talking cure inspired by Freud has been swept aside by a biology of the mind? Far from it.

    It's an interesting historical survey of psychology and talk-therapy, as well as a good look at what the current state of the art/science is.



    Living Color

    Here's a cool optical illusion: it relies on the after-image your brain makes to merge two pictures together, and uses that effect to colorize a black-and-white picture! You have to see it to believe it (actually, you're not really seeing it - you're fooling your brain into seeing it... never mind).


    Come and Get Me!

    Here's a new website that offers a super-simple but really cool hook: Pin in the Map. Basically, it shows you a Google Map. You click anywhere you want on the map and make a note. It gives you back a permanent link to that spot on the map that you can share with your friends (or put in an evite or whatever). Nice, simple, powerful. I like!



    Full-Flavored Aliens

    Next time you take a drink of rainwater, that funky red stuff you just swallowed may be have angry relatives that eventually come back and abduct you. At least, that's what CNN/Popular Science is saying, in a matter of words. The cells appears to be alive and reproducing, but without DNA, something unique. Actually, they're appearing in India, which makes sense - the Martians must be outsourcing their production of... red gook. Thanks, SW!



    It's Lonely At The Bottom, Too

    I didn't know about this, but the IMDb has a "Bottom 100" movies chart (I found a link to it here). This may be one of those things everyone knows about already, but it's pretty funny, regardless. If you're one of those "everyones" who knew about it already, I have now joined your ranks. And yes, I'll make myself at home - thank you.



    Low Carb Robertson

    In case you haven't had your fill of weird stories today, here's a doozie (from The New York Times): GNC has pulled a health shake promoted by Pat Robertson off the shelves. Now, a 76 year old evangelist selling power drinks is weird enough, but apparently there is a video clip of him leg-pressing 1,000 pounds on the Christian Broadcasting Network's website (this has understandably gone viral on YouTube).

    Anyone know how to digest this particular nugget?



    Cylons Come To Springfield

    If you enjoy BattleStar Galactica (I do) and The Simpsons (sure), you'll love this Simpsons-style rendition of the BSG characters.


    p.s. I've had this link for a while - sorry it took me so long to put it up...

    If This Had Been A Real Emergency... Oy

    I had a somewhat disturbing experience in New York last night. I was walking home along 24th street from the PATH train when I walked by an abandoned open leather bag on the sidewalk, under a phone booth. It looked empty, but I started having visions of watching some horror story on the Ten O'Clock news (not that I actually watch the Ten O'Clock news, but anyway). In other words, I decided to report it as a suspicious package. "If you see something, say something", right? Since I was reasonably sure it wasn't an emergency, I called 311 instead of 911. I got a surly operator who eventually transferred me to 911 when she figured out what I was trying to tell her (in fairness, I was still walking, and it may have been hard for her to hear me). My exchange with the 911 operator (who I didn't really want to speak to in the first place) was priceless:

    I told her that I saw what seemed to be an abandoned, empty bag on the northwest corner of Park and 24th street, under a phone booth. Simple, right? First they had to ask me what was so suspicious about an empty bag. Fair enough, I said, it *looked* empty but you never know. Then the real fun started - "the corner of E24th and Park is an invalid address." Ummmm... no, it isn't - I just walked by there. "Can you give us another address as a reference point?" No, I'm not there anymore (I was in a rush - I couldn't stick around). "Well, it's invalid." After a few more minutes of this, she finally decided to end it, mercifully. "Would you like to leave your name and number for follow-up purposes?" What I thought was, "Hell, no." What I said was, "Well, I don't really have anything else to add to what I said. I'm just reporting what I saw." "Ok, thank you, sir." *Click*

    There are a few things wrong here. One is that it's a huge pain in the ass to be a good citizen (or what I thought was being a good citizen - maybe I'm wrong). I didn't want to tie up 911's lines, but I ended being forced to anyway. And I got the feeling I was "imposing" the whole time I was on the line - like I was asking them for a favor or something. I had to repeat the same exact information to both operators. So far, not too surprising, although annoying. But the worst part is that the 911 operator couldn't seem to do anything without entering the address into some database. Maybe the street or avenue there has a different name - street names and avenues change a lot in Manhattan. Sometimes they're named after a famous person for a stretch, or if they are adjacent to a park, they take on the park's name for a bit (4th Street becomes Washington Square South, for example). Does the 911 system take into account that people may not know the precise street/avenue combinations at that point? It would be horrible to hear that a tourist between 7th Street and 9th Street on 2nd Avenue didn't get help because they said "8th Street" and not "St. Marks Place".

    Anyway, the whole experience left me disillusioned and disappointed. It was an unfortunate case of "no good deed goes unpunished". I'm tempted to think twice about the next time I make a call like that (although I would still do it again, and urge my readers to do the same). This isn't a case of whining about bad customer service, which I've done here. This is an example of how New York still doesn't seem to entirely have its act together when it comes to these things. In Israel, this whole thing would have been taken much more seriously.

    Was I right to report this? Comments welcome :-)